BY AARON BEARD
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State relied on defense to get through a season in which its offense started four quarterbacks due to injuries.
Both units look different for Dave Doeren’s 11th season.
Last year’s Wolfpack (8-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) reached eight wins for the fifth time in six years. The defense was one of the nation’s top units while the offense was inconsistent even before injuries hammered the most important position — notably by sidelining preseason ACC player of the year Devin Leary.
“The team changes a lot when you lose a quarterback, another quarterback, another quarterback,” Doeren said. “So the fact that our complementary football played into it — the defense was No. 1 in the league in scoring defense, the special teams were No. 1 in the league, our offense did not turn the football over and kept us in games — that’s how we won.”
Picked fourth in the ACC, N.C. State has pieces to follow that plan again amid change.
The defense returns four starters, though the list includes star linebacker Payton Wilson and cornerback Aydan White. The offense has a new look with Robert Anae as coordinator and the arrival of Virginia transfer quarterback Brennan Armstrong, who thrived under Anae two years ago.
There’s also the departure of Christopher Dunn as the Lou Groza Award winner as the nation’s top placekicker and Associated Press first-team All-American.
“We will have obstacles, we will have adversity, we’ll have things happen we didn’t want,” Doeren said. “I just hope they’re not in the injury category when we’re facing them.”
Armstrong ranked No. 2 in the Bowl Subdivision by averaging 404.5 yards passing, tied for 12th with 31 touchdown passes and ran for nine scores in 2021. But Anae left for Syracuse and Armstrong never looked the same.
He threw for less than half his yardage total (2,210) in one fewer game last year while throwing just seven TD passes. He also saw his completion percentage drop from 65.2% in 2021 to 54.7% last year.
Returning to Anae’s scheme could change that.
“Honestly I really felt really good about where we were at,” Armstrong said after the first day of preseason camp, adding: “We’ve put a lot of stuff in already and guys are picking up on it quick.”
A key question centers on which skill-position players are ready to be reliable producers, notably at wideout.
The departure of receivers Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter leaves Keyon Lesane (342 yards receiving) and Porter Rooks (151) as potential top targets.
Trent Pennix, a sixth-year tight end/H-back, was limited to five games last year due to injury. But he has eight touchdowns on 40 career catches, a 20% rate offering intriguing upside.
“That was kind of our main goal, keep Trent healthy (through the offseason) so we can get to the season and we can unleash it then,” Armstrong said.
N.C. State had a top 20 defense in allowing 19.2 points and 326.9 yards per game last year.
Five of the top six tacklers are gone, notably linebackers Drake Thomas (101 tackles, 7 1/2 sacks) and Isaiah Moore (82 tackles) along with hard-hitting safety Tanner Ingle (83). Wilson returns as a former all-ACC talent who has battled injuries along with White, while there’s experience up front in Savion Jackson, Davin Vann and C.J. Clark.
“We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play physical, we’re going to play fast,” White said. “Offenses know what they’re getting into when they play us.”
Dunn finished as the NCAA career leader in field goals (97) after going 28 of 29 last season. Brayden Narveson is set to replace him as a Western Kentucky graduate transfer. Narveson made 51 field goals in his last three seasons and never missed a PAT there.
N.C. State opens at Connecticut on Aug. 31, then returns home to host No. 13 Notre Dame — led by familiar opponent in Wake Forest transfer quarterback Sam Hartman — on Sept. 9.
The Wolfpack’s league opener comes Sept. 22 at Virginia while preseason ACC favorite and ninth-ranked Clemson visits Raleigh on Oct. 28. N.C. State closes by hosting No. 21 North Carolina on Nov. 25.